OK, deep breath.
Where to start?
First off, I won’t be reviewing this as a Transformers film, or comparing it to the stuff I remember from my childhood, or which I read in comics as a teenager. There’s simply no point, as this film has nothing to do with any of that.
So, instead I’ll look at it simply as a standalone film.
I was generally entertained for most of the film, in a typical being-bludgeoned-over-the-head Michael Bay kind of fashion. It’s the kind of film where you almost don’t have time to consider whether you’re enjoying it or not, there’s so much audio-visual mayhem going on. On the other hand, once it’s finished, you realise that it was an utterly empty experience.
Let’s deal with the stuff I liked first:
Shia Labeoeoeieieieiuuueoeouf. This guy is great! I didn’t like him in I, Robot – but that was mainly due to his ‘irritating sidekick’ style character. In Transformers, however, he’s fantastic. Really captured that Harrison Ford/Michael J Fox style of natural acting, which can switch between comedy and ‘serious’ absolutely seamlessly. As such, any scene that he’s in was noticeably better than ones without. Can’t wait to see him in Indy 4!
The visual effects. Dear god, these were fantastic! Practically flawless, and one of the first times that CG has felt properly ‘there’, to the same level as a animatronic or puppet version. The rest of the technicals were of similarly fantastic standard – this is a very, very well produced film. With the notable exception of the script, of course…more on that in a moment.
Peter Cullen. Despite being saddled with some seriously rubbish dialogue, Cullen did a great job. It might just be nostalgia speaking, but he really managed to inject a bit of character.
Other than those three elements, however, this was a remarkably shoddy film.
The biggest mistake? All the military and political scenes. Seeing the soldiers in Qatar and later in New York was ok, with some great action, although most of it was still fairly superfluous. It seemed mostly to be a big advert for the companies that make military hardware than anything else.
All the Jon Voight stuff, and anything relating to the Pentagon, hackers and Sector Seven, though, was utter guff. It was simply intensely [i]dull[/i]. This was particularly true in the first half of the film. When we [i]should[/i] have been focused entirely on Sam and Bumblebee’s attempts to woo Ms Fox, all of which was highly entertaining and brilliantly reminiscent of the golden age of 80s action-comedies, instead we had to keep cutting back to dry offices, meeting rooms and made-up computer talk. The problem for me was that it was all so tiresomely generic – it really could have been footage cut out of any other random disaster/sci-fi movie. It’s been seen so many times before, and it utterly sapped the energy of the film. How much better would this film have been if we’d seen it entirely through Sam’s eyes, as this larger world was revealed? The military could still have shown up at the end, could still have been involved, but there was really no need to give them such a prominent role.
Then there’s the muddled action. Sure, much of it was fantastic – the military’s assault on Scorponok (a total non-entity, unfortunately), for example (my prior comment notwithstanding), was awesome, as was Prime’s head-to-head with Bonecrusher. However, so much of the rest was shot in such major close-up that it was impossible to see what was going on, and the geography of the end battle was seriously perplexing at times.
This was compounded – or perhaps caused in the first place – by the crappy robot designs. Now, I’m not saying this from a ‘purist’ point of view. I don’t mind that they’ve changed the designs from the G1 robots – there’s been bjillions of Transformers incarnations over the years, some good and some bad. That they rejiggled them isn’t what annoys me – that the redesigns were so uninspired does, however.
This is never truer than with Megatron and Starscream who, in both plane and robot mode, look almost identical – especially given that their scenes are almost all action-based, thus filled with wobbly camerawork, lots of blur and fast movement etc.
The general aesthetic was oddly fragile looking, too – it felt like these robots would just snap in two, or get their gears and levers jammed on something. There are so many exposed parts, all you’d have to do to stop one is stick a long pole in-between a couple of struts!
Then there’s Frenzy (I think that’s what he’s called), the little mincing spaghetti robot. What the hell were they thinking? So many of his scenes were played out as if they should be scary, or at least slightly freaky. Instead, it was just hugely camp and a bit odd – almost like there had been a massive miscommunication between the director and the special effects guys. And why on earth could nobody see him, when he was wandering about in plain sight? Very odd.
There were also numerous action scenes that started to be fantastic…..then inexplicably stopped. The first car chase between Bumblebee and Barricade, for example. Given it was a Michael Bay film, I got rather excited as this began – I knew it’d be fantastic, no matter what the rest of the film was like. Instead, it stopped before it even began. Same happened with the Prime-Bonecrusher fight on the freeway, which ended rather quickly.
Then there’s the Prime-Megatron battle, which turned into a total non-fight, and was mainly just two robots falling over constantly. Not exactly the epic final battle between to arch-enemies that have been fighting for thousands of years.
Finally, there’s the general dialogue. While Shia somehow rescued his, the rest was decidedly ropey. No more so than Optimus’, which ended up sounding more like a patronising school teacher, endlessly repeating asinine platitudes and blatantly obvious moral absolutes – while everybody else seemed to completely ignore him. This was no truer than at the end, where you had Optimus going off on yet another speech, while Sam and Ms Fox get jiggy on Bumblebee’s bonnet and Ironhide and Ratchet look on in a perving manner, totally ignoring their leader’s ‘wise words’. The end result was that Prime came across more like a bumbling, slightly senile old codger, rather than a military and visionary genius.
Add in the bizarre over-acting of every black actor in the film, all seemingly willing to hammer home a bunch of stereotypes, followed by John Turturro apparently trying to upstage them all, and you’ve got a seriously odd film experience.
This was a film which had big stompy robots, but the filmmakers made them say things like “my bad.” I guess that just about sums it up right there.